In 2011, a group of students from Bogota, Colombia, thought it would be fun to ask individuals in the community to come up with their own interventions to enhance their neighbourhood – a hundred of them in one day.

Now, the global citizen-led movement, 100in1day, is coming to Hong Kong. At the upcoming MaD conference, Dr Yanki Lee of the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI), joined by 100in1day’s founders, will be getting senior citizens, young adults, and other conference participants to join hands in a local expression of the project. HKFP spoke to Yanki Lee and Albert Tsang of the HKDI DESIS Lab for Social Design Research, the masterminds behind Hong Kong’s own version of 100in1day.

The Colombian founders having fun with HK participants at a100in1day pre-session. Photo provided by interviewees.

“We told MaD that we have a group of senior citizens, and we want to look at the city through their perspective. In the past, we’ve done projects on housing, health, or death – such as funeral services. This time, we thought we’d make the theme ‘streets’. We’re hoping to be able to engage them as creative citizens of the city,” says Lee.

This group of senior citizens are all members of the DesignAge HK Club – unlikely designers that Lee has worked with on a variety of projects, ranging from burial services to interior design in Hong Kong’s tiny spaces. When Lee and Tsang noticed that the senior citizens and the HKDI students that they were collaborating with often learned from and inspired each other, Lee decided to  bring the young and the old together again for the 100in1day session.

Not everyone thought it was such a good idea, though. “The Colombians who came up with the idea are generally quite hands-off with the process, they would rather let the ideas travel on their own. At first they were quite reluctant when we suggested the DesignAge HK Club – they want it to be an involvement of the whole community and not focused on senior citizens, but we feel that without a focus it’ll be even harder to get people to sign up,” Lee explained. “Of course, the MaDees (MaD conference participants) are also going to be taking part – though I feel like they are also rather like-minded people.”

The spirit of the project, however, stays true to Colombia’s original version. “Our project is very similar to the original – the starting point is the city and the streets.” However, Lee said that there were also clear cultural differences; “Overseas the 100in1day project is perhaps more spontaneous – they just go out and do it. The one in Colombia was quite ad hoc and felt a bit like a carnival. The founders were quite shocked, when they came to Hong Kong, to find that we don’t really fool around and have a lot of fun. In Hong Kong there is more planning.”

This involved “infrastructuring” – building a framework for people to take action, Lee said. She feels that there should be more infrastructuring in Hong Kong because Hongkongers don’t often drive things on their own initiative. “100 things sound like it’s not a lot, but it’s actually quite difficult in Hong Kong. We’ve done a little pre-session for the event – we came up with this ‘ideas mobile’ thing with the potential delegates. Their idea might at first be really simple, it might only contain one or two lines of description – we try to help them develop them.”

The ideas mobile. Photo provided by interviewees.

Lee said that rather than trying to solve problems in society, the project hopes to use design to ask questions. On January 23, the second day of the conference, 100in1day will be put into action, and the participants – around a hundred or so of them – will also showcase the activities at the forum that follows.

So far, participants have already come up with very interesting ideas. “Both an elderly person and a young adult said they want to do a mobile hopscotch game – so we’re planning how to do it now, like whether we draw it out with chalk or something else. The senior citizens are more pragmatic – they always ask us if they’re going to be arrested. We’re trying to work out how to help them run away quickly,” Lee said.

“There’s been some really creative ones – one wanted to figure out how to be able to hang their clothes anywhere. Then there’s also the ones you see more often, like singing and dancing – kind of like a flash mob,” Tsang said.

“One elderly lady said she wants to sing, and we’re trying to see how we can get her to collaborate with the buskers at Star Ferry pier,” Lee added. “Another loves cycling, and she wants us to help her tell the government that cyclists should also be allowed on the road.” When Lee told her about the bamboo frame-skeleton vehicle that was used overseas for cycling activism, she was clearly excited about the idea, and said that she would cycle round Hong Kong if we found the frame for her. “So we put her in contact with a product design student to see if we can make it happen.”

The infrastructuring system has also laid a good foundation for ideas to flourish and take form. “For example, there is Seaweed Por Por, a storyteller who has been around for a while now. We want to be able to help her reinforce the idea, we hope to help her frame it and spread it to other people. She’s already telling stories at community centres, libraries and competitions – this time, perhaps we’ll ask her to tell stories on the streets. We also use the design mindset on her, like helping her brand it, or grouping different storytellers together and really making it big.”

Lee took up this project because she believed that MaD was a good platform for such initiatives. “They’re not all designers, they’re just passionate and enthusiastic people. We tell them how we use design techniques, and it inspires them to think up new projects. In Hong Kong, the hierarchy goes policy makers, then clients, then designers – the designer is always only pulled in at the last minute to make things pretty, but overseas designers are involved from the very beginning. It’ll be interesting to see how people of different disciplines, not just design, collaborate together.”

Lee said that the focus of the project is on its citizen-driven aspect, and that this first attempt will be viewed as a prototype. “It doesn’t take all 100 things to happen for the project to be successful.” She hoped that the project could have the effect of a ‘sustained influence’ – that the changes would go on throughout the year and not just on that day. For example, she said, in South Africa there are regular Open Street parties, and in Helsinki there is a Restaurant Day where anyone can open the doors to their homes and be a restaurant for a day.

The Colombian founders have set an ambitious goal of getting 100 cities to do 100in1day, and the organisers said that they still need to discuss with them what the role of Hong Kong is in this. Personally, Lee and Tsang hope to see more possibilities, and that includes the idea of reclaiming the streets. “For example, many years ago it was very free, we could do all sort of things on the streets,’” Tsang said. “Hong Kong somehow became a lot more reclusive, a lot more middle class, a lot cleaner.” “Now our first response is, ‘Will we get arrested?” Lee added.

Indeed, on Sundays, we often see domestic workers taking over the streets, cutting each others’ hair or putting on nail polish. “See, we somehow associate it with the working class as well,” said Lee. “Hongkongers have this mentality by which before people stop them, they’ve kinda stopped themselves. We hope to articulate this argument and to encourage them to look at different possibilities.”

HKFP is a media partner for the upcoming MaD Forum 2016: Village Reinvented. It will be held on 22-24 January, 2016. Visit for more details about the forum.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.